Friday, February 26, 2010

Go, team!

I am going to be on three different obedience teams with the Belgian boys at two different trials this spring, including my own club’s trials in April and Malinois nationals in May. I’m not even sure who my other teammates will be at Mal nationals.

This is going to be a blast. It’s is going to be a rolling party. It is going to be non-stop, laugh-a-minute entertainment. Notice I am not saying anything about practice.

Anyone who has done team knows practicing seriously is overrated. Believe me, if you've ever done team before you know the score is going to be the least of your problems.

Imagine four dogs and four handlers moving with synchronized precision through a series of obedience exercises. Well, you can imagine all you like. Reality is usually somewhat different.

Team #1 will be at my club’s trial. It’s Jamie my terv, Robin the whippet, Kruz the border collie and Simon the sheltie. The oldest dog will be 12, the youngest 10. The dogs are veterans of lots of venues. Among us, we have an OTCh., a U-OTCh., two MACHs and a Senior Courser title, plus other miscellaneous obedience, herding and rally titles. We’re calling ourselves “Senior Moment.” That would be referring to the dogs, NOT the handlers.

So far we have a theme, have decided on what to wear and are planning a few little audience participation things. No, I’m not going to tell you what they are. Don’t you know team strategy is all about secrecy? We’ve practiced 1/2 times. I say that because Jamie and Robin had a chance to do some heeling and that treacherous drop on recall last weekend. All four of us are planning to get together this weekend for what will probably be our one and only practice. With age comes wisdom.

Team #2 is also at my club’s trial. This team is Phoenix my mal, Kina the aussie, and Katie and Kenzie the shelties. We have no theme, no costume, only one human (me) and none of the dogs have done team before and we haven’t done anything resembling practice. Since my teammates are Jennifer, Jill and Judy handling Katie, Kina and Kenzie, Phoenix and I are wondering if we should change our names for the day.

Team #3 is at Mal nationals in May. A friend from Minnesota e-mailed and said, “Hey, wanna do it?” and I said, “Hey, why not?” I’m guessing practicing is not going to be on the top of anyone’s priorities there, either.

My only problem is that I have to find an extra handler for sits and downs at our trial, since I can’t take both Jamie and Phoenix in the ring. Experience has taught me not to hand Jamie off to a friend, no matter how well he knows her or how much cheese she has fed him. I do not need a repeat of my OTCh. dog screaming his bloody head off and acting like he was being killed when someone else took him in for group exercises. Besides, no one in the club would touch him with a 10-foot pole after that little escapade. Pet him, yes. Feed him, yes. Take him in the ring, hell no.

So I’ll have to find a friend to take Phoenix in with the yet-unnamed team of four herding dogs. I don’t think this will be a problem since by all indications he is an obedience slut and will work for anyone.

All my dogs have done team in the past. It’s always a riot. The handlers try their hardest and the dogs do as they please. Everyone laughs a lot.

We even have a team manager for the April trials. She has been manager for us before, working on the “I Train With Melinda Wichmann/It’s Not My Fault” team of 2008. However, word is she is moonlighting as manager for one of the other club teams this spring. We think this may be a conflict of interest and might need to give her a talking to. Or bribe her to help us more.

This is my last day at work for a week, as I am on furlough (yeah, we’re doing that AGAIN) March 1-7. Sigh. Aside from not getting paid, it will be awesome to have time at home to do stuff, plus I’m leaving next Thursday for a 3-day agility trial in Naperville, Ill., so the week will fly by.

Today, I am thankful it is the Farmer’s birthday and we’re going out for supper and I don’t have to cook.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Funny old picture

Here's a funny old family picture, courtesy of my Aunt Joyce, the genealogy queen. This is my great-great-uncle Peter. Legend has it he was poisoned by his wife. Successfully, apparently, since the wife was never arrested or prosecuted.

Aunt Joyce points out two things about this picture:

1) Check out the fishing pole. It looks like a stick with a string. No Bass Pro Shops high-tech graphite rod and reel for Uncle Pete.

2) He is fishing in a suit. This was back in the day when people did not have many "good" clothes. Heck, they did not have many clothes at all. (Which would explain why none of our wonderful old houses have many closets.) Regarding fishing in a suit, Joyce said, "No wonder his wife poisoned him."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Grass envy

I love this picture for a lot of reasons. The main one is that it captures Phoenix’s silly side. He looks so happy and goofy. He can be very silly. He can be very serious, too. Sometimes I think that’s my own personality reflecting on him. I can be way too serious. Maybe I should get an Orbee ball of my own.

But today, I love this picture because it shows green grass. We have no green grass here. We have no grass of any color. You couldn’t find grass around here if you tried. It’s covered with snow. Heavy snow. Deep snow. Thick, frozen, icy, miserable, wretched, ugly, depressing . . . oh . . . sorry . . . you get the point. Enough snow already. Some friends trialed in St. Louis last weekend. They said the snow there is gone. That’s just 4 hours south of us. There is hope.

I’m just going to sit here and look at the grass for awhile and think about spring.

Today I am thankful for the cookies a co-worker's mom made for us.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Phoenix at 7 weeks
(Photo courtesy of Catherine Shields, Carousel Malinois)

Three years ago today — Feb. 22, 2007 — Michele and I flew to Oregon to pick up Phoenix. It was supposed to be a relaxing three-day trip that included a little sight-seeing and time spent getting to know Catherine, Phoenix’s breeder, and some other west coast mal folks.

It didn’t work out that way. The best laid plans of mice and malinois . . . Our leisurely trip was replaced by a 26-hour sprint from Homestead to Cedar Rapids to Minneapolis to Portland to Woodburn and back again to beat the mother of all ice storms that was snapping at our heels.

We got to Oregon with no problems, met Catherine and the Wild litter, went with the puppies for their CERF checks, then out to supper with Catherine, Laurie and CJ at a yummy Mexican place. That evening our friend Rilda back in Iowa called to warn us about the weather forecast: one-inch ice accumulation and 40-50 mph winds, she said. Massive power outages and impossible travel conditions were expected. The eastern part of the state would pretty much shut down. Michele and I are still wondering why our husbands, who share a first name, have many similar behaviors and are collectively called “The Jeffs,” didn’t think it was necessary to call and let us know about this. Essentially, the storm was to hit the same day we were supposed to arrive home.

Thank goodness Rilda called to warn us or we wouldn’t have gotten home until March. The next morning, Michele called the airlines. Yes, we could reschedule our flight. Yes, they had a flight to Minneapolis that afternoon, with a connecting flight to Cedar Rapids. We rescheduled the appointment for Phoenix’s pre-flight health clearance at Catherine’s vet (which got me a $50 health certificate that nobody ever looked at, yeah, I’m still bitter) and scrambled for the airport.

It had been years since I’d flown, definitely pre-9/11, so the airport security processes were not only new and amazing to me - shoes off, 3 oz. bottles of liquids out of the carry-on luggage, purse, shoes and everything else on the conveyor belt - they were compounded on the return trip by the presence of a wiggly, squirmy, ambitious puppy who was not in the least little bit fazed by all the commotion.

We got to the Minneapolis airport in fine shape. Phoenix slept the whole 4 hour flight. Our flight from Minneapolis to Cedar Rapids was supposed to leave at 10 p.m. It was delayed to 10:30 p.m., then 11, then 11:30. I was having visions of becoming one of those people you see on the news, sleeping in an airport lounge chair, with a malinois puppy chewing the sleeve off my coat. By the way, Phoenix totally enjoyed our four hour lay-over in Minneapolis. He met a lot of new friends in the women’s restroom where we were trying to get him to pee on a newspaper. He was too busy making friends to pee.

We finally left Minneapolis about midnight. It took longer to de-ice the plane than it did to fly to Cedar Rapids, which was not terribly reassuring. Michele’s Jeff met us at the airport, fetched my van out of long-term parking for me (bless him) and we set off for home. A fine freezing mist had already begun. The storm was coming in early. The airport closed shortly after our flight landed.

Baby Phoenix and I got back home at 1 a.m. Feb. 24 and the power went out. And stayed out for a week.

Fortunately for us, the ice storm was followed by relatively mild weather. “Mild” in February in Iowa is the mid-30s. It was about 40 degrees in our house. I had taken the week off from work to bond with my new puppy and that’s exactly what we did. We got in the van (warm) and drove to town (warm) to use the computer at the library (warm) to e-mail updates to friends. We went to fast food drive-throughs for meals (warm) and ate them in the van (warm.) We went to visit my folks (warm, shower and laundry). I got good at heating bottled water in an antique coffee boiler on our gas grill for hasty washing and at some point, I grilled a pizza. Don’t laugh. It was delicious.

When the sun went down, we snuggled under blankets in the recliner and read books by camp lantern. Well, Phoenix snuggled and I read. When it was time for bed, Phoenix crawled in with us. He was 8 weeks old, had short baby fur and very little body fat. There was no way he could sleep in a crate by himself in an unheated house.

The Farmer gave me the big eye roll the first night but Phoenix burrowed under the blankets and behaved himself. I’d never let a puppy sleep in bed with us before. Phoenix decided we were large and lumpy littermates but very warm. I was destined to be the puppy on the bottom of the pile, since when I woke during the night, Phoenix was draped over various parts of me, including my face. I usually woke to him chewing on my hair or clothes.

After six days our electricity came back on and life returned to normal. Somewhat. From then on out, Phoenix reinvented “normal.” Three years have passed. Where does the time go?

Thank you, Catherine, for my Wild boy!

Friday, February 19, 2010

More war stories

Aunt Joyce sent another batch of memories for her childhood years during World War II. She was the youngest of my dad's family, shown below in this picture from 1941: back row, from left, Jack, Grandpa John Hanson, Grandma Laurel Hanson, Rosemary; front row, from left, Dave, Joyce, Frank (Dad).

"There were no high school sports played in Iowa during the war years due to tire and gas rationing. Rosemary (Dad’s sister) never saw a high school game during her school years . . . tires were almost impossible to get, ration stamps were needed so used tires were never seen just sitting around and everyone knew how to patch their own tires and tubes.

"Rosemary would grocery shop at the noon hour and carry the groceries home on the school bus to save my parents having to drive the mile and a half to town to get groceries. This was done by a lot of kids. We didn’t have weekly church service because we went to a small mission church with only five other families because of the gas issue so had limited services. There were no new cars, as it was war equipment that was being manufactured and if you sold a used car it was done through a government list to whoever’s name was next.

"Many would 'give' the car away and receive money for it to keep from having to put it on the sell list. After a lot of my dad’s farm equipment burned in the barn fire, he put his name on lists for a combine, harrow, plow, disc and some other pieces and waited two years to get a combine during which time he used a neighbor’s.

"Farm equipment was also not being made, which is why the farmers became so good at using baling wire to hold things together. My dad re-soldered the edges of disc blades as they couldn’t get new ones. When I started school in 1941 I went to school all day as a kindergartner and in the last three war years we had school six days a week so the high school boys would be out of school early in the spring to do farm work.

"John (Dad’s brother) graduated in the end of March 1943. The only time that everyone really went to town was to receive the bodies of soldiers by railroad car. And the entire town went to every funeral. However this wasn’t until very late in the war as those that fell both in the European and Asian Theaters were buried there and brought back when things got better. The parents were asked where they wanted their sons buried . . . in the US or left where they fell in our cemeteries there. That is why the foreign cemeteries like in Normandy, all over Europe, the Philippines and all over Asia is really American land deeded to our government, so our soldiers were buried in American soil.

"I remember when rail cars would come in and they would open the door and get out a casket and you could see other flag draped caskets in it. Dave (dad’s bro) and I both well remember practicing “bombing protection” and “gas protection” procedures during school. You got under the desk for bomb protection and there was a covered bucket of water in each room that was to be used to dip cloths in to cover your face in case of poisonous gas. Actually pretty unrealistic as we were in the middle of the heartland of the US and I don’t think there were bombers that could have reached our areas."

Today, I am thankful - and humbled - to live with such an abundance of material goods.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

World War II, revisited

This is a picture of one of my late Aunt Rosemary's ration stamp books
from her childhood during World War II.

Today’s history lesson comes from my Aunt Joyce, Dad’s sister, who sent the following recollections after sorting through some family heirlooms. I’ve condensed it somewhat. It’s an interesting look at the life of an Iowa farm family during World War II.

"World War II ration books . . . Each person, regardless of age was issued a ration stamp book every 6 months in WWII. There were various stamps in it for use and you had to have them to purchase rationed items, like coffee, sugar, shoes, tires, gasoline, meat, butter, and many other things. If you did not have a stamp you could not purchase the item regardless of how much money you had.

"It was illegal for anyone to sell a rationed item without a stamp involved. Meat raised on a farm could be used by the person/family who raised it but could not be sold or given away directly to anyone else. My parents were very strict about this and refused to give meats or butter to relatives, but would take a huge amount of it to any family gathering, etc.

"And my parents also believed that even if we had the stamp for it, the 'boys fighting' needed shoes and things more than we did so we got no more than one or two pairs of shoes a year. Wedding shoes and shoes for graduation, etc. were often made from a type of cardboard that lasted one night. Dad resoled our work shoes and his cobbler equipment was still at the Wapello farm I believe.

"Our gasoline was used for the tractor and Dad’s Victory farming, so we did not often see our relatives 30 miles away. Only several times a year and it was a big deal to go. Sugar especially was a prized item. We didn’t have cakes or cookies often for that reason, and Mom used a lot of honey and molasses to sweeten things. The men cut down “bee trees” for the wild honey which mom would strain and share with neighbors.

"Mom froze many hundreds of boxes of strawberries and raspberries and this was before the home freezers but there was a big locker plant in out town. We would take the boxes of fruit into the locker and Mom would count out the precious sugar stamps and the locker owner/manager would carefully measure either 1/8 or 1/4 cup of sugar and pour on top of the box of fruit, and Mom and Dad would close and put it into our locker bin. Then the locker manager would have to account for all sugar to the Farm Department after he used it to see if it agreed with the amount of stamps he had.

"Coffee was also highly prized and the grounds reused to get all “the good from them.” Coffee would get pretty strong and black even for us Danes! The night the barn . . . across the road from the house was struck by lightening and burned, the Volunteer Fire Department came to help and surrounding neighbors came and brought food to feed them. Many brought coffee grounds to use and one special old couple who lived up the road from us brought 4 tablespoons of coffee for Mom to use as that was all they had left that month. A sacrifice for them. And how much we waste now!

"Dad did what was called Victory Farming for people in the area who needed help because all the young men were off fighting. If he was farming at a distance (like over 10 miles) he would take a tent and sandwiches and sleep at the end of the fields to not use up his gas going home. He was given several awards for being the outstanding Victory Farmer of the area. That’s how he paid off a lot of the farm they had just bought in 1940.

"Dave and Frank (my uncle and father) were home to do our chores and some of the farm work , mainly with our team of horses. That was when nylon stocking were impossible to get so the girls would take a black eyeliner pencil and draw a black line up the back of their legs to look like they had on hose. In those days all women’s stockings had lines in the back, not like now.

"Mother hoarded her tea leaves for a special time or when she wasn’t feeling well as tea leaves were imported from Asia and impossible to get. Because butter fat was used actually to make armaments it and left over bacon and cooking grease were collected at schools, consequently that is when the first margarine, which was white, was put onto the market for use in place of butter. How times have changed."

Today I am thankful for abundant food and not needing to have ration stamps to buy it!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Here, kitty, kitty

Here is proof that malinois and cats can co-exist peacefully.



They can.

Not that you would ever see anything like this going on at our house.

This is Cayenne, Phoenix's sister, with her Easy litter puppies and Figment the cat. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Shields, Carousel Malinois)

This is Apollo, Phoenix's half-brother, with Remington Steele, "Remmy," the cat. (Photo courtesy of Apollo's mom, Laurie Kudna.)

Phoenix does not see the point of cats. They push his buttons on so many levels. Hindsight being what it is, I wish I'd addressed this cat obsession back when he was an itty bitty puppy. We have practiced endless recalls away from our farm cats, who are not entirely stupid and stay as far away from the dogs as possible. Phoenix even met Jill's cat, Leroy, who came to class one night last fall. Nix could barely even stand to be around a dog-savvy cat who was sitting quietly. I envisioned him snuffling Leroy and deciding cats are basically fuzzy and boring.

Wrong. He snuffled all right, followed by muzzle punches and nips which all translated to: RUN SO I CAN CHASE YOU! It would take a lot of cat therapy sessions before he could truly relax around a cat.

Catherine, I know all the future Easy litter puppy owners will thank you for the early cat familiarization!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Star Wars and dog obedience

Over the weekend, I cleaned out from under the bed in the spare bedroom. I really did have better things to do but I needed to move the bed about six inches to better accommodate the treadmill and, well, there was too much stuff under it to move. Now that is embarrassing. But hey, when you live in a house with very few closets, you gotta do what you gotta do. Which apparently is shove things under the bed and forget about them.

One of the things I found was a poster I’d hung up at Connor’s OTCh. party back in 1999. Yeah, I threw a party when he finished. He was my first OTCh. and it was a pretty big deal. The party was at the Shueyville Community Center, which was a dumpy little old schoolhouse renovated into a community center with a gymnasium. Lots of different local dog groups used to rent it for training and matches. We were the Thursday night bunch: me, Tammy, Bill, Amy, Marsha, Al and Clara, Kay and sometimes Michele.

What fun we had. I remember hauling all those mats down from the store room to cover the gym floor, then rolling them all up again when we were done. Okay, maybe that wasn’t so much fun. Since then, the community center has undergone a three-quarter million dollar renovation and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t let dogs in the front door. But I digress.

I found this poster and had to share it with you. Understand I am an dyed-in-the-wool Star Wars fan from way back. Waaaaaaay back. Like seeing the ORIGINAL back in 1977. Not the re-mastered videos or the prequels. The original. As a kid. When all the technology and special effects were totally new. I loved it.

Here's the poster, which I suppose you could say has been digitally remastered, as well:


Determination was vital.
“Never tell me the odds.” Han Solo

You had to have faith.
“Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Yoda

Set-backs were inevitable.
“I have a very bad feeling about this.” Luke Skywalker
“We’re in trouble.” Han Solo

One of us had to be in charge.
“I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but from now on, you do as I tell you, okay?” Princess Leia

Never underestimate the power of food.
“Great, Chewie, great! Always thinking with your stomach.” Han Solo

Philosophy was profound.
“In my experience, there is no such thing as luck.” Obi-Wan Kenobi

We couldn’t have done it without friends and a sense of humor.
“Laugh it up, fuzzball.” Han Solo
“I thought that hairy beast would be the end of me.” C-3PO

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Winter continues

Seems like every day brings more fog, frost or snow. It's pretty but green leaves would be pretty, too! Until they get here, enjoy some Iowa County scenery.

Today I'm thankful for a day at home. My to-do list has gotten knocked down quite a bit but there's always one more thing to do. It's good to be busy.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Valentines Day (a little early)

This weekend brings the "holiday" traditionally celebrated with fancy dinners and gifts of jewelry, chocolates, roses, perfume, candles and all that crap. Except for the chocolate. That's not crap.

I've never understood Valentine's Day. If it's all about celebrating love, why only have it one day a year? I mean, if you really love someone, shouldn't you let them know how you feel a little more often? You can't make a big fuss and then ignore them for the next 364 days. Or maybe you can. But don't expect that relationship to last.

The Farmer and I don't have any big plans for celebrating Valentine's Day. I'll actually be HOME for once on a weekend. How great is that! Maybe I'll bake him cookies or something. I'll hug him and hug my dogs and tell them all I love them but heck, I do that on a regular basis anyway. Awww . . .

A friend of mine recently lost his dog. She was a CT MACH dog but beyond that, she was his absolute soulmate. I e-mailed him my condolences and said, unfortunately, I knew how he felt since I'd lost Connor last fall. He wrote back and one of his comments was, "How could we be so lucky as to have these two dogs for all those years, and yet it wasn't long enough."

So celebrate Valentine's Day this year by remembering how lucky you are to have the ones you love. Life is too short to take anything for granted. Celebrate the wonderful twists of fate that brought all your loved ones - furry or not - into your life . . . even if they drive you crazy sometimes. Or most of the time. Or chew your socks. And fidget on their stays. And leave the milk jug on the counter. And can't remember to put the phone back on the charger. And track in all sorts of hideous stuff. Hey, you probably make them crazy, too.

Today, I am thankful Feb. 14 means February is halfway over and we are that much closer to spring.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dog hair everywhere!

You get a bonus post today! This video is hysterical and so true. Thanks, Renee, for sharing it! I thought I was the only one who found dog hair in the refrigerator . . .

36 days until spring

Spring is coming and it can't get here soon enough. Here are a few ways to tell it's been winter for TOO LONG!

You get out of bed in the middle of the night, not because you have to pee, but to let all the faucets run because you’re paranoid about the pipes freezing.

You don’t panic when you see your dogs running around the yard on three legs - it just means they have a case of cold “weenie feet” but don’t want to come back inside yet.

You don’t care if your gloves match. You’re just glad you can find a left and a right without holes in the fingers.

Your life seems to hinge on two words: weather permitting.

You worry about how you’re going to get to work. Once you get there, you worry about how you’re going to get home.

You’ve crammed two days of work into six hours to get home before an incoming storm, plus missed so much work because of inclement weather and impassable roads that working five whole days in a row on a normal schedule is a totally surreal experience.

Your car hasn’t been washed since November. No one wants to park next to you at work. You don’t care.

You have an emergency kit in your car with an extra blanket, flashlight, batteries and a package of Snickers.

You ate all the Snickers. In one day.

The first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do before going to bed is shovel snow.

You’ve shoveled the same snow drift 17 times. If you decide to give up and walk around it, that path will drift closed within 20 minutes.

You fondle your houseplants and think happy thoughts about gardening, warm soil, sunshine, flowers and weeds.

You put on long underwear, a turtleneck sweater, wool sweater and down vest . . . to sit around and watch TV.

You think about kicking your spouse out of bed and letting the dogs sleep with you instead because they're warmer, cuddlier and don't snore.

The thought of 40 degree temperatures is beyond exciting.

You know that yes, as a matter of fact, malinois CAN climb the walls.

By the time you put on your coveralls, extra socks, insulated boots, thermal jacket, scarf, stocking cap and wool gloves, you can’t remember why you were going outside in the first place.

You let the dogs out, they pee on the patio furniture two feet from the back door and run back inside before the door can swing shut.

You’ve slipped on a puddle of frozen dog pee.

You’ve invented new and creative combinations of swearwords while your vehicle’s front end and rear end are swapping places.

You’ve gotten stuck in your own lane.

Upon advice from your husband, you “punch it” to get through a drift in the lane and nearly end up doing a Wile E. Coyote into the side of the neighbor’s machine shed.

You prayed the neighbor was not looking out the window at the time.

You gaze at the sparkling white blanket of fresh snow covering everything and all you can think about are the three months of frozen dog poop underneath.

You’ve slipped on the ice and your first thought was, “Did anyone see that?”

Your second thought was, “I hope so because I’m going to need help getting up.”

You’ve used at least one gallon of hand and body lotion since November and there are six weeks of winter left to go.

You've witnessed 174 different canine behaviors that relieve boredom. At least 170 of them involve stealing articles of laundry and committing crimes upon them.

You can justify every last ounce of your “winter weight.”

You can calculate wind chill without looking at a chart, although once it gets to a certain point, it's just freaking cold and who cares.

You're in love with the guy who invented remote start on vehicles.

You realize you are spending an extra $20 a week on gas because you use the remote start so much.

You keep doing it because it honks off all your co-workers who have to go outside and get into a cold car.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

For the love of dirt

My quest to build a dirt-colored wardrobe is progressing nicely. Here’s a pic of my latest acquisition, LLB’s Weather Challenger jacket, which is currently on clearance. Apparently dirt-colored jackets were not a big seller among the general population. I bought it to replace my current winter coat which is suffering from a number of issues, mainly the zipper has gone AWOL.

Unfortunately, the Weather Challenger, for all its dirt-colored glory is not heavy enough to be a true winter coat here in the Midwest, but it will make a wonderful 3-seasons coat so I’ll keep it. In spite of the catalog copy which might lead you to believe otherwise, it is basically a Goretex raincoat with a wind-block fleece liner.

Anyone who shows dogs knows the value and convenience of dirt-colored clothes. If you spend much time trialing in horse arenas, by the end of the weekend, everything is covered with a fine layer of brown dust. Having as much dirt-colored gear as possible maintains the illusion that things are not really as dirty as they actually are. This is helpful to those of us who are compulsive about cleaning and washing.

Over the last few years, I have collected a dirt-colored fleece jacket, dirt-colored wind pants, several dirt-colored sweatshirts and a dirt-colored sheet for a crate cover. I used to have a dirt-colored gear bag but Phoenix ate it. Well, part of it. He didn’t mean to. He was very young.

My current gear bag is from Doggone Good. It’s bright blue and it’s a great bag but alas, it does not hide dust. My current winter coat, the one with the dysfunctional zipper, is dark blue, also a bad color for hiding either dirt or dog fur.

Through the years I have progressed to dirt-colored dogs as well, no more pesky white paws to keep clean.

The quest continues.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Phoenix is an uncle

(photo courtesy Catherine Shields,

Phoenix's sister Cayenne had her puppies Saturday night, 6 boys, 2 girls, everyone doing well. Hard to believe my crazy wild dog was ever a pudgy little guinea pig like that.

For more pics, go to:

Friday, February 5, 2010

Return of the psycho killer attack bunny

One of Phoenix's favorite indoor pastimes is sitting at the living room picture window and watching the farm. He watches the Farmer, the Farmer's dad, the Farmer's brother, cats and occasionally, errant raccoons or cows who are not where they belong. He reacts to these with a variety of behaviors ranging from excited woofs to window rattling crazed yodeling.

It was the latter that brought me running from the kitchen one morning, thinking all the cows must be loose and stampeding toward the road, pursued by rabid raccoons and half the cats in the township. When I got to the living room, Phoenix was bouncing up and down, hackles standing straight up, tail stiff, screaming malinois obscenities.

I scanned the scene outside the window.


No humans. No cats. No cows. No raccoons. Nothing.

No, wait.

There was a bunny rabbit, hopping around by some shrubbery on the other side of the fence. It was just a fluffy little bunny.

But Phoenix was obsessed. He was crazed. The bunny was clearly evil. It was more evil than cats, which is considerably evil if you know how Phoenix feels about cats.

I peeled him off the windowsill and we had a heart-to-heart talk about appropriate in-house behavior. I'm pretty sure he ignored most of it because when I released him, he raced back to the window and looked for the bunny, who fortunately for all involved, had disappeared from the scene.

That was months and months ago.

It happened again this morning.

I don't know what it is about rabbits that pushes that dog's buttons. He seriously comes unglued when he sees one. Right now, brown bunnies show up really well against white show. Yet another reason for wishing spring would hurry up and get here. Forget having a house cat, guess I need to get a pet bunny. Or maybe not.

Rabbits aside and weather permitting, Phoenix and I are road tripping to Des Moines both Saturday and Sunday this weekend for matches. It will be two early mornings of driving but I'm looking forward to getting some away-from-home training time, plus I can stop at the new Bass Pro Shop at Altoona on the way home.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Today, I am thankful we've gained an hour of daylight since Dec. 21.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Treadmill update

My co-workers at the newspaper office are fascinated by the fact Phoenix will run on a treadmill. I think it’s the same kind of fascination that makes people stare at car crashes on the interstate and gawk at the two-headed calf at the state fair. The things I do with my dogs are so far removed from their casual relationships with their family pets (not that they don’t love their family dog, but you KNOW it’s different for people who train and trial like we do) that they can’t wait to hear what bizarre thing my dogs are doing now. Running on a treadmill falls into that category.

I promise to post video soon but we aren’t quite there yet. I say “we” because this is very much a team event. Phoenix is not quite skilled enough that he can run independently while I move around the room. I may have to recruit the Farmer to either run the camera or be Phoenix’s “spotter” in order to get video.

The biggest thing both Phoenix and I have learned about the treadmill in the last week is that walking on a moving surface is perhaps more of a challenge than the speed itself. I was able to easily increase my own walking speed once I got used to keeping my balance on a moving surface and so has he.

His first several treadmill lessons were done at a very low speed, about 2 mph. This included lots of treats just for staying on the belt. At that point, Phoenix could eat and walk at the same time.

As I started to raise the speed, he clearly had to concentrate on his feet and could not eat and walk at the same time. If I offered a treat, he stopped walking, with predictable results. At that point, I kept cookies in the picture but didn’t offer them until the belt had slowed at the end of each session.

Initially, Phoenix paced. Several friends had told me their dogs did that, too, and while it is not intrinsically bad, it’s not a gait you want your dog to practice, nor is it one that offers optimal conditioning. My goal was to find the speed at which Phoenix would trot and I’m happy to report after a week of daily sessions of just a few minutes of gradually increasing the speed, he starts trotting at about 3.5 mph. It was cool to realize I could tell the second his gait changed from pacing to trotting even though I was standing right next to him, looking down on his back, not at his legs.

This is a relatively slow and effortless speed for him, so I will start increasing both speed and the amount of time I ask him to stay on. I want this to be a very pleasant (and yes, tiring!) activity for him, not work him into total exhaustion. And yes, he gets a warm up and cool down period, just like I do.

The Internet information I have found abut treadmill work with dogs advises against setting the treadmill facing a solid wall. I advise against setting it up facing an open doorway or window! Our treadmill is in the back room of our house, which wasn’t ever intended to be a bedroom but is anyway. A set of double doors opens into the living room and we placed the treadmill so we could open those doors and watch TV while walking, as well as see out the big picture window.

A few days ago, Phoenix was walking along, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, when he looked out the window and spotted a cat. He stopped walking, again with predictable results. Fortunately, he wasn’t going very fast because he flew right off the treadmill. Now when he runs on it, the double doors are shut. Boring but safe.

I’d love to hear from other people whose dogs run on treadmills, especially relating to speed, duration and frequency of workouts.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happy Imbolc!

What? You’re not celebrating Imbolc today? Well get out there and light a candle and celebrate “the coming of the light.” Haven’t you noticed? The days are getting longer!

Need more enlightenment?

From Wikipedia: “Imbolc is one of the four principal festivals of the Celtic calendar, celebrated among Gaelic peoples and some other Celtic cultures, either at the beginning of February or at the first local signs of spring. (Editor's note: No signs of spring here yet, we got 3 more freaking inches of snow last night.)

“Most commonly it is celebrated on February 2 . . . which falls halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere . . . Imbolc is traditionally a time of weather prognostication, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens is perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day.” (Editor's note: if there are serpents coming out of their dens I am never going outside again.)

From “As a time of the year associated with beginning growth, Imbolc is an initiatory period for many. Here we plant the “seeds” of our hopes and dreams for the coming summer months.”

Kind of nice to think about, huh?

It’s sunny here today, which means any groundhog who peeks outside his burrow will see his shadow, get scared and dive back in, indicating six more weeks of winter weather. Sigh. But I’ll take the sunshine anyway.

Today, I am definitely thankful for the daylight hours growing longer.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Scott County agility

After two months off, we were back in the agility ring over the weekend. Considering the amount of agility training he's gotten lately, Phoenix ran really well in spite of me. The problems were all mine: lack of cues, late cues, no cues and a couple "what was I thinking!" moments.

It was a really fun weekend: good friends, agility and a gallon zip-loc bag of mixed Valentines chocolate. Who could ask for more? Michele found a new way to relax before runs: stick your head in the bag of chocolate and inhale. A new kind of aromatherapy!

Here's video from our last JWW run of the weekend, which was our 3rd MXJ leg. Thanks, Rilda, for videoing for me all weekend and for all your editorial comments about the "obedience dog." You are so funny!

Today, I am thankful for having a clearer picture of what Phoenix and I need to concentrate on before our next trials. I'll be dragging the contact trainer into the house tonight and we'll review how the downside of the dog walk works.